Aussie actor hammers stardom playing the Marvel superhero
Time Out Bahrain staff
‘How do you make someone stronger than the strongest person?’ This was the vex of comic book writer Stan Lee, who in the early 1960s had created a host of Marvel superheroes, and among them the Incredible Hulk. Answer? ‘Don’t make him human – make him a god.’ That was 1961, and Thor – Norse god of thunder – became a Marvel Comics success story. Now, after 50 years yoked to comics, the Norse enforcer hits the big screen in the form of 27-year-old Aussie Chris Hemsworth, the latest in a long line of local soap opera stars (Guy Pearce, Ryan Kwanten) to crack Hollywood. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Hemsworth leads an impressive cast that includes Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Sir Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s father, Odin, Tom Hiddleston as his evil half-brother Loki and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, a character who has already featured in the two hugely successful Iron Man films.
Thor was obviously a huge experience for you. Are you pleased with how it turned out? Absolutely. I couldn’t have had a more enjoyable time and I felt happy with my commitment. It had a fan base for many years before us, and so I knew there would be pressure. But it was a combination of excitement and adrenaline, and I kind of rode through the whole shoot on that.
Did you like comics as a kid? No, I didn’t. I’d never really read a comic book. It just wasn’t in my circle and I never really came across them. It’s funny, but since I moved to America, you see comic book stores everywhere, far more than I ever saw growing up in Australia. And of course, lots more comic books are being made into films. But since I got Thor, I’ve dived into reading this stuff and it’s incredible – great writing, incredible art work. So my hat goes off to an art form that I came to a little late. But I’m very excited to be part of it now.
What’s it like to get a call from Kenneth Branagh to say he’s interested in casting you as Thor? Yeah, that’s a great call [laughs]. I’ll tell you a story, I hadn’t worked for eight months, I was living in Los Angeles and I was literally about to pack up and go home. I was just asking myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ Then I got a phone call from Joss Whedon who wanted to see me about a film called Cabin In The Woods and I went off and shot that in Vancouver. Once I was there, I got a call about another film, Red Dawn, on the Thursday and then, the very next day, they called me about Thor. So I went from not working at all to working flat out – and finding myself being offered this incredible opportunity of playing Thor. It’s been amazing. The lesson is to just keep believing and sometimes fate takes a hand.
Thor is an interesting story with its roots in Norse mythology. What are the main themes? Ken said to me very early on that the story is about fathers and sons and brothers, and I have a very close family, so there was a lot of that I could relate to in the dynamic, that theme. It’s also about people discovering their way in life and working out who they are and how they choose to live.
It’s clearly a very demanding, physical role. How did you prepare? I’ve always been pretty active and I’ve played a lot of sport in my life – I love surfing, boxing and Aussie rules football – but it was exhausting, especially at first, because I’d never really done any muscle building stuff which was what was required for Thor. So I had to learn a new way of training and we had a bunch of different people that I would work with. A lot of it was about going to the gym and lifting heavy weights, and eating what was needed to maintain that kind of regime. My diet was the usual story – lots of chicken and eggs and protein and then the right carbs and vegetables. And lots of all of it, because you need it as fuel. But it gets very boring, I can tell you.
You’ll be playing Thor again next summer in The Avengers. How do you feel about the cross over between the Marvel films? I love it. I love it as a fan whether it be books and different characters who meet in different series of books or whether it’s films or TV, I love that cross pollination. I also love that we’ve done the individual films first, like Iron Man, Thor, so that you get to know these people rather than bringing them together and introducing them all at the same time, when you would have just 10 minutes or so to get to know each one. I think Marvel have been very smart about that.
You carry a hammer a lot in the film. How was that? We had different versions. There was one for hand-to-hand combat and that’s lighter, made of this rubber-like stuff, and really, you don’t want to break someone’s nose when you are doing an action scene, so it was safer. But you know, using the hammer was part of the excitement of doing the character. It’s part of Thor’s make-up. It’s like when you play a police officer, you put the uniform on and you feel like a police officer should. And with this, you put on the Thor outfit and you get right into it – you don’t think, ‘I feel like a farmer or a shopkeeper.’ There are no other options – it’s Thor. And that’s a huge bonus. Thor is showing in cinemas now.